Features
31 Oct 2017 04:46pm

Career clinic

It’s become a truism to say the CFO’s role has expanded, says Mark Freebairn. So what does this mean?

The role of the CFO has evolved enormously. Just because it’s now a cliché doesn’t make it any less true. The sentence has several meanings. Most relate to the way in which the function now challenges and often leads the debate around improving operational performance.

But it’s also true because the role has broadened significantly in terms of responsibility. Where once CFOs would have had responsibility for the function and maybe IT or the company secretary function, now many are taking on HR, procurement, supply chain, property, legal, comms, facilities and even areas of general management.

This is all fantastic in one sense. As the role broadens so it evolves, and as it evolves so it promotes the CFO into CEO succession and so on. But it equally throws up quite a significant challenge. You have to manage these areas. And in managing you have to be able to lead them, and define them, and develop the strategy you want them to deliver.

Many of these areas fit alongside the function responsibility – one of the reasons why the CFO has been asked to take them on. But some of them don’t and all of them are outside of the core technical skill set. And this is where the challenge lies.

So, make sure you have got the best people you can hire managing those areas for you. Trust your intuition and listen to feedback – if you’re not sure then ask around your network for examples that may help you decide and take action. You need someone in the role who is as good as you are, otherwise it will cost you.

Accept you are not an expert and go back to where you started in finance. Even though you are far more senior than you were, it’s still acceptable to ask stupid questions while learning. The better the people you have running these areas, the more you can ask and the quicker you learn. They don’t want you for your knowledge, they want you for your ability to influence around the boardroom table and ensure that their voices are heard at that level.

Make sure you have a superb deputy in your function. Because you are going to lean on them a lot while you develop your abilities in... portfolio management. You won’t be able to do everything. So you will need to work out a system that ensures you don’t waste time doing things you needn’t. The above suggestions will help but a plan, advice from mentors who have done this, your CEO and intuition will all support you as you evolve.

It’s testament to the people in the function that I need to write this so congratulations all. But as the role evolves the challenge increases. Lucky so many of you are professional masochists really.

Career ladder: Reid Hoffman

Entrepreneur, investor, activist. We like the way he moves

1967: Born, US. Education: BS in symbolic systems and cognitive science, Stanford

1994: Palo Alto-born Hoffman’s first job was naturally at Apple Computer, Inc before moving to Fujitsu. His entrepreneurial instinct and desire to make an impact kicked in and he co-founded Socialnet before joining the board of the fledgling PayPal.

2000: As executive VP at PayPal he worked with some of the biggest names in tech, including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. Hoffman was battle-scarred by the time eBay bought it for $1.5bn in 2002.

2003: He started and grew LinkedIn for four years, which included three rounds of financing, while also turning his hand to angel investment. In 2004 he pitched LinkedIn to Greylock Partners for a Series B investment. He later joined Greylock as a partner in 2009. In 2016, Hoffman sold LinkedIn to Microsoft for $26bn to help it grow.

2017: Hoffmain joins Gates, Schmidt, Zuckerberg, Mayer, Iger and Bezos to launch US seed fund Village Global.
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